By Randy Travis, Fox 5 News
CARROLLTON, Ga. – His murder trial was difficult enough for her to watch. But for the mother of twin daughters left in a hot car, the pain may not be over.
The FOX 5 I-Team says a new trial could be granted because of allegations a state lawmaker was “woefully unprepared” to represent Asa North, the girls’ father.
North was arrested in August 2016 after he said he found his twin 16-month-old daughters in his car parked outside his home. Ariel and Alaynah never regained consciousness. Their father would first be charged with misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter, but the charges were upgraded to second-degree murder after investigators say North’s blood showed a blood alcohol level of .117 several hours after the incident. A reading of .08 is considered legally impaired. Authorities say the blood test also revealed that North had recently smoked marijuana.
His family hired attorney Pamela Stephenson to handle the murder case. Ms. Stephenson is also a four-term state lawmaker.
The trial took place in July.
At first, North’s family seemed impressed with their attorney.
“But then when we got to court… something happened,” complained the defendant’s mother Dedra North. “I’m not sure what exactly happened, but something did happen.”
According to recently filed court motions, Ms. Stevenson did not subpoena a single witness. She repeatedly talked on her cell phone including “during opening statements.”
Her client said Stephenson “did not tell me she was going to call me as a witness… or prepare me to testify at trial.”
Another family member complained, “Attorney Stephenson was woefully unprepared.”
Two family members said in their affidavits “…the Judge asked attorney Stephenson if she was on pills.”
But perhaps the strangest moment came on the first day of testimony. The judge took a break around 11 a.m. According to their affidavits, Pamela Stephenson left the courthouse without telling family members. She would not return until after 5 p.m., after the judge had dismissed the jury for the day.
Ms. Stephenson originally agreed to meet with the FOX 5 I-Team but canceled minutes before the scheduled on-camera interview. Earlier by phone, she said she had a medical appointment on that day and thought the judge and district attorney were aware she was running late. Bad weather she says delayed her return. She told us she was only taking antibiotics during the trial, and as far her defense strategy goes she still thinks it was sound.
The people who hired her do not agree.
“I was appalled and I was so shocked at what was going on,” insisted Dedra North.
On the stand, Asa North blamed the girls’ deaths on a stranger who must have come into his home, grabbed the girls and put them in the car without his knowledge.
It would take the jury a little more than an hour to find North guilty of two counts of second-degree murder and cruelty to children. He faces 60 years in prison.
The family has hired another attorney, Gary Bunch, to argue for a new trial. He told the court Ms. Stephenson’s case file was surprisingly thin.
“There’s not a single interview note,” he argued in court. “There’s not a single list of potential witnesses. It’s just a complete dereliction of duty by the defense counsel.”
Judge William Hamrick agreed to wait until the trial transcript was back before scheduling a sentencing date. That also gives Bunch time to prepare a motion for new trial.
It also means the mother of those twin girls may have to endure a second agonizing trial.
“I agree his last lawyer wasn’t good at all,” Breal Ellis told us outside the courthouse. “She was barely there.”
She continues to call North a good father, but won’t say if she thinks he’s a murderer. She has little contact with North’s family these days. Through tears, she explained how she still misses her only children.
“I never get closure. I never know what happened that day. All I know is it got really hot. That’s all I ever know. It’s just a lot on me. Nobody knows how I feel. I get so depressed. Nobody knows how I feel. I gotta keep going through this, and it will probably be another year. I’m just tired of going through it.”
North remains in the Carroll County Jail.